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As with other gentle parenting ideas, we cosleep. I’ve practiced cosleeping with all 4 of my children until they were toddlers and sometimes even into the preschool years. Cosleeping is a ridiculously controversial subject in the US, even though it’s common, if not the norm, in most other countries around the world.
It’s normal, and there’s nothing wrong with it if you do it safely.
When I talk with people who don’t understand cosleeping or its benefits, I like to put it this way: Why do the biggest and most secure people in the family get to sleep together, yet the smallest and most dependent are supposed to sleep alone?
When to Stop Cosleeping?
Often a question I see all around the internet is “When to stop cosleeping?” I don’t feel there is an exact answer to this. Some people want their 3-month-old baby out of their bed, but I feel the safest place for my nursling is right by me. So, we don’t consider moving out of the family bed until they are toddlers.
Moving to the Toddler Bed
However, when your baby turns into a toddler, it’s normal to want them in their own bed and out of yours. I do not believe in the cold turkey method. It might be the easy way out for the grownups, but it’s unnecessarily hard on your sweet little toddler. In my opinion, the best way is to do this transition gently.
There are two milestones I use to determine when my babies are ready to move to the toddler bed.
- They can climb out of my bed by themselves successfully, even when sleepy and just waking up to find Mommy.
- They are no longer nursing through the night.
Usually my kids are about 18 months to 2 years old when they can successfully climb out of the bed when sleepy and don’t just cry for me in the bed. We start working on how to safely climb out of the bed as soon as they can walk at around 12-13 months. I teach them how to lay on their tummy, turn around, and crawl down the bed on their stomach. My current toddler, Ivy, caught on immediately at 13 months old, but a couple of my other kids took a little while to get it down.
Ivy was able to start climbing down from the bed when she was sleepy at around 18 months. Now she’s about 21 months, and we are slowly working on the transition to her own bed. Her crib is set up as a toddler bed in our bedroom, and most nights she starts out in her crib, and most nights in the middle of the night she climbs in bed with me to nurse.
My kids are usually around 2 years old when they stop nursing in the middle of the night. Around 18 months old, we are still nursing about once time a night.
Ivy has not quite made it the second milestone yet. She still wakes up to nurse once a night. When she’s no longer nursing, then we will move to creating her own bedroom.
Shopping for the Bed
When both those milestones have occurred, we start having the conversation about sleeping in a big kid bed and having their own room. I make it very exciting. We start with shopping for a twin sized bed, choosing their very own bedding, and setting up their bedroom as their very own. This is a big deal because prior to this, my children each share a room with me and my husband.
We plan a special trip to the store or cuddle up together on the couch with the laptop and shop together on Amazon and pick out a bed and bedding. The last time we did this with our middle daughter, we got this bed and this bed frame. We have the king size version of this bed in our bedroom, and she loved how squishy and snuggly it is.
We also get a safety bed rail for their new bed. My kids all move around a lot in the bed, and I feel this is the best way to keep them safe.
For the bedding, I take my kids shopping to an actual store – Target, Walmart, etc. to pick out bedding just for them with favorite colors and characters.
We also start a sticker chart. Every morning when they have stayed in bed all night, they get to put a sticker on the chart. We do one sticker if they start out in their own bed but get out of bed in the middle of the night and two stickers if they stayed in bed all night. When they have 30 stickers, they get to go shopping for a special toy. Some of my children have been super competitive and wanted those 2 stickers every day to get a toy faster and some of my children could not care less.
The Bedtime Routine
#1 About 30-45 minutes before the bedtime routine is started, turn the lights in the house down low. Turn the television volume low or turn the television completely off.
#2 Get an electric blanket and lay it on the sheet turned to the low setting well before they go to bed. Then, go about the normal bedtime routine – a warm relaxing bath, brush teeth, pajamas, etc. My daughters love when I brush their hair and braid it before bedtime.
#3 When it’s time for bed, turn off and remove the electric blanket completely from their bed (I store it unplugged underneath the bed), so now the bed is inviting, warm and toasty. You and your child cuddle in their bed together and read a story with low lighting or a book light.
#4 When story time is over, we use white noise apps on the mini iPad or the iPhone. You can also find videos on YouTube with these sounds. When I use the YouTube videos, I just turn the phone over to avoid the light from the videos. I have found running water, gentle rain, or the noises of a marketplace the best for my toddlers.
Do not expect this to work every night. Do not expect to sleep alone immediately. With gentle parenting, it’s a process. As we transition, my children have always found their way to my bed in the middle of the night or early in the morning, and I snuggle with them. I want them to feel secure in this big transition.
Extended Nursing and Transitioning to Bed
We also practice extended nursing, so often nursing at night puts my toddler to sleep. If this is also you, I recommend doing the bedtime routine and then nursing to sleep. Then, I carry my sleepy toddler to the bed and remove the electric blanket before laying them down. Most nights they go right to sleep. Then, I add the white noise app.
I truly believe the combination of the warming of the bed and the white noise are the best tips to help them make an easier transition.
When it doesn’t work
I’ll be honest, sometimes this is too traumatic, and they just aren’t ready. You do not want an upset toddler at bedtime. It just doesn’t work. If we have gone back and forth for an hour, I just bring my toddler back to my bed, so we can all get a good night’s rest. We try again the next night.
My middle daughter has a sensory disorder and is very sensitive to change. Her transition to her own bed took until she was 5 years old in preschool. She would start off in her bed, but within a few hours was back in our bed. I was okay with that.
The nights are long, but the years are short.
You’re not a failure if they aren’t ready to leave your bed just yet. You’re also not a failure if you wake up and find they’ve snuggled themselves back into your bed sometime in the night. Even now at the age of 8, if my middle daughter is sick, the place she feels most secure is our bed. I’m okay with that because my job is to raise her to be a secure person. Children are only little once, so cherish them.